Review: Neptune Frost

Written and directed by Saul Williams, co-directed by Anisia Uzeyman, an intersex African hacker, a coltan miner and the virtual marvel born as a result of their union. Starring: Cheryl Isheja, Bertrand Ninteretse, Eliane Umuhire, Elvis Ngabo, Dorcy Rugamba, Rebecca Mucyo and Trésor Niyongabo.

The first thing to get out of the way with Neptune Frost is that it’s made for a very specific audience, it’s not an inherently accessible story. Therein lies the key problem with connecting to this film, it’s an obscure exploration of politics and technology which does not follow a clear path. Its portrayal of oppression and uprisings are a fairly natural choice but the themes get lost in unnecessary detail. Its focus doesn’t feel to be in the right place to land this story, it needed to be fleshed out to allow viewers to invest in its direction and ultimate goal. The deeper it goes into its decorative elements, the further it pushes away its audience and will take a certain kind of viewer to appreciate its thought process.

Visually, it’s a different story, it has a more intriguing balance, a liveliness and poetic quality. It feels akin to when Shakespeare is transported into a modern or dystopian world. There is a weakness of going overboard on the effects at times but for the most part, there’s a strong hand at the wheel bringing a great variety and depth. Adding in the musical element was an interesting choice, it doesn’t entirely take over but it does change the nature of some scenes. It builds a more collective atmosphere, enhancing how its group of rebels slowly come together.

With its story going fairly slow and cold in its development, there isn’t a great deal to learn about its characters. Instead of genuinely individual, they feel like smaller pieces of a whole, mostly moving as one rather than standing out. The only things you do learn about the characters serve the plot more than their personalities. There’s an air of defiance, confidence and dedication among the ensemble, as well as moments of kindness and hope. It’s just a shame there isn’t a stronger lead and heart to the story to drive their goals and destination.

Neptune Frost has a strong, colourful and poetic visual quality but is let down by its unfocused story. It’s not an unusual choice to explore current political and cultural issues by translating them into another, not too far removed, world but it doesn’t quite work here. There’s a lack of flow and clear direction to the story, the type of progression to pull you in or characters with strong personalities to invest in. It’s an ambitious project and for a small target audience it will payoff but for most, it just simply won’t click into place.

Verdict: ✯✯½ | 5/10

Coming to Digital in the UK on 6 February 2023

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